Every Thanksgiving, well really every holiday, I end up lying on the floor at my grandma’s house groaning because I am so full. My wife and I have several stops to make for each holiday and to be polite, I usually eat at each stop. It helps that my grandmas are all great cooks and there are various things that each of them make which I love. Yet after all this feasting, I am so insanely full that it probably borders on being sinful. I essentially eat a full meal, sometimes with dessert, at three or more places in a matter of about four or five hours. So I hope you’re getting the picture of how very stuffed I feel by the end of those days. No person should really eat that much, especially in that short amount of time. This year, as I was sprawled out on my grandma’s floor once again groaning at how stuffed I was, I thought about a passage in Colossians, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority,” (Colossians 2:9-10, ESV). As I had filled myself with all that I could on that day of feasting, I thought about what it meant to be filled in Christ.
Fullness of Deity
The Athanasian Creed, which has classically helped define the biblical, orthodox view of the doctrine of the Trinity, says, “For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal,” (Athanasian Creed, http://www.ccel.org/creeds/athanasian.creed.html). This creed affirms the existence of the Trinitarian God, who is one God in three persons, existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Godhead is evident throughout the scriptures and the creed helps summarize the doctrine that the Bible contains, as creeds are meant to do. The affirmation of the Trinity is central to the Christian faith and is a great mystery. Finite man could write books and give lectures for an eternity and still not adequately even begin to describe the complexity, mystery and majesty of the Trinity. Therefore, knowing the fact of the existence of the Trinity, Paul is describing in Colossians 2:9, that, “in him (that is Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This brings another layer to the mystery of God, whereas the Trinity is deep and vast enough of a doctrine, but herein Paul is describing the representation that Christ is of the Trinity.
John Calvin sums this verse up nicely by saying, “The sum is this, that God has manifested himself to us fully and perfectly in Christ,” (Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians). When Jesus Christ was born a man, He was the full and perfect manifestation of God for us to behold as humans. The disciples even had a hard time understanding this though they had Jesus with them physically to teach them and guide them. “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9, ESV). Jesus is of course not saying that He is the Father, but rather that when the disciples see Him, they are seeing the full and perfect representation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in bodily form.
How full are we?
Paul explained, as we have discussed, that Jesus was the full and perfect representation of the Godhead and then goes on to say, “and you have been filled in him…” (Colossians 2:10, ESV). What does this filling that we receive do? What have we been filled with? This is an example of a time where if we simply continued to go on hanging onto the word filled and focusing our questions around the word filled, we may not get at the meaning of the original text. We are probably all aware that the original text of the New Testament was written in Greek, particularly Koine Greek. We are also probably aware that there are various English translations that choose to translate the Greek into English differently either on a word-for-word basis or a thought-for-thought basis. When there are variations in the English translations of a word or phrase from the Greek, we should probably go to the Greek to understand why there is a variation. In this case, the word translated as filled, is sometimes translated as completed, filled or fulfilled, among other variations depending on form.
If we continue on with this basic meaning of filled in the sense of an empty container being filled with a substance, we might deduce that Paul is here saying that we have been filled with Christ. If then, we have been filled with Christ, we know from the previous verse that He is the full and perfect representation of the Godhead. Therefore, continuing with this line of thinking we may come to the conclusion that we are filled with the fullness of the Godhead ourselves. A cursory reading of a number of passages about the current, physical location of the Godhead should bring us to question this conclusion. Though there are others, the following verse from Acts 2 gives us the complete picture to refute this conclusion, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing,” (Acts 2:33, ESV). This verse tells us that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and that the Holy Spirit has been sent from the Father to believers. This verse does not hint at in any way that the right hand of the Father is somehow spatially the same place as dwelling in believers. There are numerous other places in the New Testament that discuss Jesus’ position at the right hand of the Father and that, that particular place is in heaven (Mar 12:36, 14:62, 16:19; Acts 5:31, 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 1:13, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit that dwells in believers once they have put their faith in Jesus as Paul explains in Romans 5, “…because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” (Romans 5:5, ESV). Ultimately, we are not filled with the entire Godhead, but we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we come to faith in Christ.
We are still left with the question of what does it mean to be filled in him? That little phrase, “in him,” seems to help in our understanding of filled. As previously mentioned, the word translated as filled here can be and is translated as completed, filled or fulfilled. In this particular instance, completed is probably the best translation. This verse is ultimately getting after the fact that in Jesus, we have everything we need. Calvin explains this more fully:
He adds, that this perfect essence of Deity, which is in Christ, is profitable to us in this respect, that we are also perfect in him. “As to God’s dwelling wholly in Christ, it is in order that we, having obtained him, may possess in him an entire perfection.” Those, therefore, who do not rest satisfied with Christ alone, do injury to God in two ways, for besides detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection, they are also ungrateful, inasmuch as they seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ. (Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians).
We see then, as Calvin alludes to, that the meaning of fullness in relation to Christ’s representation of the Godhead and our being filled in him are different sorts of “filling.” The fullness of deity that is represented by Christ is that which completes us in him. In other words, because Jesus is who He is, we need not look any further for anything else to add on to Christ. Christ is all we need, Christ is completeness for us. Paul says that we have been filled in him, not through him or by him. To be filled or made complete in him shows his sufficiency as savior and Lord for us and it shows that it is all about Him and not us. It is not even so much about what we receive by who He is, but rather it is more about who He is. Our completeness in him is a byproduct of his fullness of deity. Our completeness in him does not give us some pagan, heretical ability to contain all of the Godhead inside of us. Calvin refutes this as well, “Paul, however, does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there are in him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing may be wanting to us,” (Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians). We would be completely stuffed, as it were, to contain all of the fullness of the Godhead. Rather, our completeness in him requires us to rest in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as savior and Lord, walking by the Spirit He has given us, and giving glory to the Father with whom he advocates on our behalf.